Role of  School  as an  Agency  of Social Change : Some Reflections

school children

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” (Nelson Mandela).

There are varied perspectives  exist among the scholars with regard to the role of School  as an agency of social change. For some, modern  institutions like Schools and Colleges (by promoting secular and democratic thinking  through critical pedagogy) could play progressive role  in the  hierarchical society like India.  To be precise  here, the purpose  of critical pedagogy, is to create new knowledge and develop a sense  of critical thinking among  the students  through the method  of dialogue and discussion in the classrooms. The concept  of critical pedagogy  is systematically given   by Brazilian  educator Paulo Freire in his  noted book, Pedagogy of Oppressed, 1970. For him,  the purpose of education and teaching is  to create  critical thinking and questioning abilities  among the students  rather than preparing  them for passing exams  and securing good  marks often through rote learning and memorizing. In other words,  the students should not be merely passsive receiver  of knowledge, rather they should  be an active participants in the classroom learning. In short,  school  can  be  an agency  of social change,  if it  provides  space to students for critical thinking and questioning existing status quo and dominant societal norms  prevalent  in the hierarchical  society like India.

For others, (especially left leaning scholars) have underlined that school as an  institution  can also be used  as an ideological  apparatus  of State and the ruling elites to produce “cultural hegemony” (in Gamascian sense)in  the  civil society. To accomplish this task, the pedagogy  and  curriculum ,etc. are often taught in   the schools in such way, so that  it can reproduce and reinforce already existing inequality rather than work as an agency of social change. That is why, some have argued for an “alternative” model  of schools ( especially for those who belong to the oppressed groups)which should provide space  for articulating the genuine concern of  children  belonging to  the subaltern masses. The educationist any Austrian  philosopher like Ivan Illich in his noted book, Deschooling  Society, 1971 has argued for  deschooling  and put forward  the idea  of alternative model for learning   based on informal  education  and home schooling.  His concept of deschooling  could be noticed  in remote areas   and rural settings  of India when the students coming from  subaltern masses  could not able to  sustain their education for longer time in the school especially  in English medium, due to high fee structure and socio-economic  exploitations  that exist  in the institutions  of learning. However, process of  deschooling  is also  taking  place due to rise of  various other options of  learning after the  rise  of online education in post-covid-19  in India  and elsewhere.  Therefore , process of   deschooling is also increasing because of  alternative choices of learning  are now available  to the students, as an American scholar John Holt has underlined.

As a teacher having experience  more  than five years , I would like to argue  that if schools and colleges will  seriously follow  the idea  of educationists and founding fathers  of  our nation like Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi’s conception of education and learning environment  (envisioned during the freedom movements), it can be an agency of  social change.  In this respect,  the role played  by  educationists and social reformers like Savitribai Phule  and Pandita Ramabai    in the 19th century  of colonial India can be taken as a case in point. These  Bahujan icons  and feminists for the first time had opened  the school  for women and  the lower  caste in the colonial India. Besides opening the  schools, they had  also fought against the brahmanical patriarchy and evils of cates system deeply rooted in the society. In similar vein, Babasaheb saheb  Ambedkar  had also emphasized the role of education to bring out social change.  His dream was that, every Schools and Colleges  should  work  as an agency of social change.

Drawing the insights from Bahujan icons in field modern education and agenda of social reform,  one could argue  that the schools  and teachers should be equipped with  modern and scientific research  in the field  of education and training.  Moreover, teaching methodology,   pedagogy and curriculum should be conceptulised  in such way, so that  it can promote  secular, democratic  and pluralistic values among the students. More importantly,  teaching community  and academics of schools must be informed  with democratic thinking  and progressive values like equality,  freedom, social justice and diversity, enshrined in our democratic constitution. The larger  purpose of education should be  based on moral values  like empathy, kindness, compassion and truth,  rather than guided by  narrow views  of primordial values such as caste and community locations,  as also envisioned by the  Bahujan icons. In short, the purpose  of education should not be  to prepare the youths  for serving the agenda  of markets and solely driven by material needs and career advancement, as advocated by the a ruling dispensation.

Having said that now let me  underline here what  Mahatma Gandhi has said  about education  and creative learning for children.  For Gandhiji, education  must be rooted  in surroundings  and  local environment of children and  according  to  the  needs of society at large.  For him, purpose of education should be,  to development  of all round  personality of children.   In other words,  curriculum of schools ,pedagogy of learning and surrounding of students should be inter-connected. The school  and classroom learning should  provide academically conducive space for healthy development  of  child learning  and  according  to their psychology. Put differently, the school, educators  and members of academic community should be committed to provide “child centered” education , as underlined in 1986 educational policy and National Education Policy  2020.  However, the larger  agenda  of social justice and social change  is  missing and  not  given primacy  in the NEP -2020,  rather more attention  has been given to accessibility,  affordability,  equity and quality education to all children.

To note that the NCF (National Curriculum Framework, 2005) has also underlined that school,  community and textbooks along with life of students must be interlinked  to each other. In other words, life of students in schools , home, and community must be interconnected in learning process while keeping in mind child psychology. In doing so , textbooks and examination  centric  method of evaluation  should  not be  used  as a sole criterion to evaluate students academic abilities. To  evaluate students academic performances and learning skills, the school,  teaching community and pedagogy should be based  on comprehensive and continuous evolution (CCE)policy which focuses on every day learning by involving  students  in the extra- curriculer , cultural activities  and learning by doing method,  as Gandhiji emphasized long ago while envisioning the idea of basic education in the  late 1930s.

Now let me come  to the recent  academic discourse and views  of scholars and educationists especially  on how can develop enabling environment for effective learning skills among the students.  In this respect,  several articles  have been so far written  by sociologists and educationists with regard to how can promote culture of learning and quality education along with value education amongst students. Some sociologists have argued that socialization of child in family  matter more than  school  and society. It should be noted that family is considered as primary agency of socialization and child learning. Most of times, students used to expend their times  with members of family  and their close relatives.  Apart from family,  other agencies of learning and socialization are peer groups, friends  and society  that also play vital role in learning of  children. On the basis  of my interactions  with students  in the classrooms, I have seen contesting views prevalent among the students  especially  when come to critical issues like  reservations  and social justice.  However,   it is beyond the scope of this essay  to discuss these issues  here.

To note that most important  and secondary agency  of learning take place  when children  come  to school. Unlike traditional institutions of learning  as said earlier, modern and democratic institutions  like schools and colleges also play crucial role as far as educational ,  social,  psychological and emotional development of  children.  The secular institutions like School  needs  to promote the democratic and inclusive thinking among the students with the  help of critical pedagogy. However, the fact must be noted that all schools  are not  aim to promote critical thinking and scientific temper among the students. To note that the schools in modern times also work as ideological apparatus of  State and reproduce the  dominant ideology of the ruling establishments and maintain cultural hegemony in civil society, as  hinted earlier.  The Indian educational  institutions are not  exceptional in this regard.

In this essay,  attempt is made  to  demonstrate how can school’s curriculum and  pedagogy should be conceptualized, so that  it can provide an enabling environment to children  and their academic growth. Let me share  here a few words about the purpose  and  real goal of education. As a educator, and  associated with  teaching community, for me, the purpose  of education is not to  get good marks in exams and achieve personal  success and career advancement. The real aim  of education, as reminded by the great educationists  to bring out  social change  in society and fight against the socio-economic problems  witnessed  by larger people  of our country.  Besides, as I said in my earlier article, the purpose of  democratic education( which see education as public goods that must benefit  to the least advantaged groups) is  to promote  and cherish the democratic  and secular  and scientific temper among the students. While doing so, the larger goal of education has to be foster communal harmony and cultural of tolerance, moral values  and peace in society.  One can not deny that these values  are under the threat now. To cultivate all the progressive and democratic thinking among the students, the school could play vital role more than the primary agencies  of  traditional learning such as family  and  peer groups. The aim of teaching and learning  should not only  be confined to how can secure  “good marks” in exams  but foster and inculcate the above progressive values among the students.

To conclude  this essay,  I would like to state that  besides  family, and  other agencies of learning, the schools  are most important  institutions  of learning  for children. In this process of learning, the teachers and  academic  members  of schools would have to play socially and educationally  vital role  with regard to promoting  educational and moral values among students . Moreover,  the schools  should also provide enabling conditions of learning rather than creating social and psychological constraints , as  generally seen in the those  schools, located in rural settings. However , schools which are located in urban areas are not exception in this regard.

Let  me end here by saying that  in today’s globalized and competitive world, we as member of academic community and associated with teaching fraternity should act as an agent of social change by  fostering  secular and democratic thinking among the students in schools and  in the larger  Indian society, as enshrined in our living Constitution. It could be only possible when the academic fraternity, besides  providing enabling conditions of learning  to children in the  schools, must follow seriously progressive ideas  especially on education  and social change put forward by the great leaders of our nation like Babasaheb Ambedkar, Bahujan feminist icons and Gandhiji during the course of our freedom movements.

Dr. Badre Alam khan has  just completed  his  Doctoral Degree from Department of Political science, University of  Delhi.


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